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Post Info TOPIC: Cannock Chase

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RE: Cannock Chase

My parents have moved fairly recently to Stafford, and this means that some interesting birding sites are now in reach for me. Chief of these is Cannock Chase which is no more than a 10 minute drive away. Last year I noticed a request for volunteers to carry out a survey on the Chase and I decided to see if I could get involved. The area has a reputation for holding some very nice species indeed, but I was also really keen to do some birding that was going to test my skills and knowledge. This post is a summary of the survey from my perspective.

Having been accepted into the group of volunteers, I was given a comprehensive pack and some great guidance by the survey organisers, the Stafford Branch of the West Midlands Bird Club. The survey is held every 5 years and requires substantial preparations, needing liaison with bodies like the Forestry Commission and Natural England as well as the County Council. We were being expected to wear high-vis jackets to do the survey at one point, before some common sense prevailed. I was allocated a sector of the survey area that was almost entirely Forestry Commission land. When I went to recce I was delighted to see a couple of areas of fresh clear-fell amidst large plots of conifers. However there was no deciduous woodland at all, and virtually none of the open heath that people associate with Cannock Chase. I got a fairly small sector covering around 1.5km by 0.75km.

The survey began in February and is only concluding now in July, based on a minimum of 2 visits a month using BTO codes for sight and sound records. The first visit was a bit underwhelming, I was only obliged to record 3 sightings, a pair of Reed Buntings and 2 Buzzards! I never saw a Reed Bunting again so they obviously never bred in my sector! I only recorded about 15 species in total, after a 3 hour thrash of the sector. It felt great though that around any corner there could be something to see and it was all going to be my sightings. My sector isn't normally watched too well, as a lot of the local birders go to tried and trusted spots for their birds, rather than covering the vast Chase area comprehensively.

In the second week of March I did visit number 2. This was better to say the least as I recorded the 2 early breeders we had been told to look for, Raven and Woodlark. The Woodlarks were passing in flight, but it was pretty nice when I picked up the birds to note the broad wings and stub tail and realize I had scored a decent sighting. Also evident were winter finches in the conifers, including Crossbill, and Green Woodpeckers which do very well in the area. The migrants then began arriving, Chiffchaff first and then in early April I walked into a clearfell area, and right on the first tree I looked at, a singing Tree Pipit was perched up in the sunshine. By the end of the month I'd seen Cuckoo and the rest of the warblers you'd expect. Also at this time, a pair of Woodlarks were discovered on a territory and I had located at least 5 Tree Pipit territories.

May saw consolidation of the Tree Pipits breeding but sadly the Woodlarks were not found again. They probably just failed in nesting, but it will go down as a mystery. By the end of the month though it was time to think about those long drawn out evenings. On my first evening visit a gem was a lovely cruising Hobby silhouetted against the setting sun, 5 or 6 Woodcock were roding and then the icing on the cake was a churring Nightjar which showed well before it got too dark. One of my favourite birds and a delight to discover in a new location. Cannock Chase as a whole is a stronghold for the species but this was a new spot within the recording area.

As the survey has wound up June and July has been about trying to prove breeding and the last visits have featured lots of fledged young. I have ended up with a list of 52 species for my sector, with Spotted Flycatcher the last decent species to be found. The final highlight though was the discovery of a second territory for Nightjar, this time with a pair present and presumed breeding. Reflecting on it, conducting the survey has been a superb experience and I would recommend something like it to anyone. I have also got very attached to the sector, so I will certainly be back down there. I am also planning to see a bit more of the wider Chase, as there are lots of other good birds about.

Feel free to message me with any questions or comments, but please be aware I'm not going to disclose any precise locations of sightings of sensitive species.


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Following on from Shropshire, the 4 of us (Me, Steve, Simon and Chris) dropped in at Cannock Chase mid morning.

A huge expanse of heathland with plantations and patches of forest, so obviously only a small proportion covered.

Went with the intention of finding Woodlark but no luck, Birds of note though...
- Tree Pipit 1, a belting individual in full song
- Skylark 4
- Yellowhammer 6
- Reed Bunting 1
- Linnet 2
- Common Whitethroat 2
- Meadow Pipit
- Stonechat 1 male
- Wheatear 1
- Cuckoo heard, call got closer then got further away, another / same heard later
- Green Woodpecker lots heard, 1 seen when Simon flushed a Pheasant which scared the life out of him and the Green Woodpecker.
- Chiffchaff plenty around
- Willow Warbler plenty around
- Common Buzzard 1
- Kestrel 1
- Common Snipe (ref Simon)


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Spent the day on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire with John Barber and his mate Dave Hughston who had been to the area several times and had offered to show us around.

We started at the rifle butts in Cannock Chase Forest in the hope of picking up Wood Lark for John's life list - no joy there but did get excellent views of several Tree Pipits as well a Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Garden Warbler, my first of the year. John also picked up a Redstart and got onto a possible flushed Nightjar - Dave and I were a bit slow on the uptake so could not confirm

At Seven Springs we found a calling Wood Warbler just outside the car park on the track to Stepping Stones where we headed looking for Pied Flycatcher. We all had brief views of one male and heard calling Cuckoo and further Redstarts. On the walk back we had overflying Raven and a Treecreeper near the pool in the car park. That was about it birdwise. Luckily we dodged the showers and enjoyed some very nice scenery, it's a huge area that could merit further investigation.

-- Edited by sid ashton on Thursday 10th of May 2012 06:22:21 PM


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Had to be in the Midlands this morning so popped to Cannock Chase on the way back. Parked up near the Glacial Boulder and had a good wander around. Saw plenty of Skylarks, Mipits, Kestrel, Buzzard, Willow Warblers, Reed Buntings and Whitethroats and heard two Cuckoos.

As one of the Cuckoos was on the opposite hiilside a long walk followed to try and see it [a first for me as I've often heard them in the past but never knowingly seen one]. Eventually I saw the bird at a distance and realised it was using an area about 1.5km square and was patrolling from tree to tree over the heathland. A bit of a wait later I got very close flight views but it was very difficult to observe in the trees as it didn't spend more than a few minutes at each station and as a result I was struggling to catch up. Fascinating to watch though and also had it in the same view as a Kestrel which was very instructive as I'd been thinking how falcon like it was.

If anyone else visits the scrub and woodland to the west of the glacial boulder was full of birds but as I was after Cuckoo I headed east onto the heathland. If I'd had more time an hour on the western side would've been good I'm sure.

Building my lifers
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